The winners and losers are already being sorted out following the decision by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) to launch its own tablet PC. Many industry observers say the software giant's OEM customers will be the direct losers. Others say Microsoft itself may regret its move, which is likely to irritate its PC partners.
Whatever the case might be, the decision obviously has strong implications for the electronics component procurement and manufacturing segments. After seeing rivals like Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), BlackBerry (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM), High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498), and even Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) fail to make a dent in Apple Inc.'s domination of the tablet market, component vendors are bound to hope a new competitor would be more successful in taking on the world's most valuable consumer electronics company.
If Microsoft's Surface tablet succeeds, it may erode some of Apple's marketshare. However, my personal opinion is that it may actually help expand the total addressable market, making devotees out of folks who may want to buy a tablet but don't like the iPad, don't want to pay the premium Apple demands for the device, or are dissatisfied with the slate of alternatives.
Enterprise users may also benefit from Microsoft's entry into the tablet market. Many CIOs are finding that the days of companies dictating what platforms employees can use are coming to an end. In many cases, employees (especially senior executives) have fostered the bring-your-own-device phenomenon. They tell their companies the devices they would like to use (and have already purchased) and then request access to corporate IT systems. That's how the iPhone sneaked into enterprise messaging. Top-level executives simply showed up with the smartphone and asked CIOs to hook them up with the internal messaging system.
Surface users may find it easier to gain enterprise acceptance. I suspect, in fact, that companies could purchase the device for employees if it can be loaded with Microsoft Office applications. Many of us may dump our notebook PCs if the Surface can be easily hooked up to a bigger screen and keyboard in the office and taken on the road with a portable and ultra-light keyboard. In a press release, Microsoft discussed the keyboard that will come with the device.
The 3 mm Touch Cover represents a step forward in human-computer interface. Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard... Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. You can also click in a 5 mm-thin Type Cover that adds moving keys for a more traditional typing feel.
I already want one. If Microsoft wins customer acceptance for the Surface, many companies in its ecosystem will be the direct beneficiaries. These will include whichever company is selected to assemble the device. Microsoft is unlikely to manufacture the Surface itself, so it will be using a contract manufacturer. In addition, component suppliers and logistics services providers will see increased patronage from Microsoft. Already, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is expected to play a role. So will the IP licensing company ARM Ltd. (Nasdaq: ARMHY; London: ARM), which Microsoft said will provide the engine for one of the two variants of the Surface.
Logistics services companies can also expect to gain some business from shipping and delivering the Surface. Microsoft has indicated it would sell the device only online or through its own branded stores. This means freight companies will be pressed into service delivering the Surface to homes and businesses.
On Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. EDT, EBN will host a live chat on Microsoft's foray into the PC hardware market with Rick Merritt, an industry veteran and EE Times electronic systems analyst. Rick will answer questions on the potential impact of the Microsoft Surface on the electronics supply chain. He will also discuss the likely winners and losers and whether this move is even in Microsoft's best interest. Click here to join us.